There’s a new guy in town to don the tools of ignorance while a top prospect has decided to give those same tools a spin, a familiar face returns to the bullpen, the farm system gets lavish praise, and the Braves narrow in on a new spring home. Round up the youngsters and put another log on, it may feel like spring in January but the hot stove is still LIT.
Braves Sign Catcher Kurt Suzuki
On Saturday morning, Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com first reported that free agent Kurt Suzuki signed a major league deal with the Atlanta Braves. The terms of the deal for the 10-year veteran were 1 year, $1.5 million. The total package could be worth as much as $2.5 million if all incentives are met. The Braves will be the fourth major league team for Suzuki after spending the last three seasons with the Minnesota Twins.
The 33-year-old Suzuki will likely split time with incumbent Tyler Flowers, and the two of them share similar offensive profiles. Also like Flowers, Suzuki has a reputation as a good game-caller and blocker but with a below-average caught-stealing rate. Unlike Flowers, Suzuki hasn’t rated particular well as far as pitch framing.
A right-handed hitter, Suzuki hit .258/.301/.403 with 8 home runs last season, which is pretty much on par with his career averages. The deal also is light enough that Suzuki could be a trade candidate himself later in the season for a team in need of catching help.
This signing gives the Braves an experienced catcher with more of a track record than Anthony Recker or Tuffy Gosewisch, the two most likely options for back-up catcher on the roster prior to this signing. Both Recker and Gosewisch have options left (hat tip: Braves Options Guy) and could start the season in Gwinnett, or one or the other could be trade bait now.
Alex Jackson Will Report For Catching Duty
The Braves traded for prospect outfielder Alex Jackson in November, but there was almost immediate talk that the Braves may try to convince Jackson to return to his high school position of catcher. Those discussions have born fruit, as Braves GM John Coppollella told Fangraphs last weekend:
We met with Alex and spoke about it with him and with his agent, Scott Boras. All of us felt like it was an opportunity worth pursuing. Catching is the biggest long-term need in our organization, so if we feel Alex’s bat can play as a corner outfielder, imagine how well it would play as a catcher.
Jackson will look for a minor league assignment at the class-A Rome Braves or the high-A Florida Fire Frogs. The Braves have steadily built a reserve of catching prospects the last two seasons, including second-round draft picks Lucas Herbert and Brett Cumberland, fast-riser Jonathan Morales, and international signee Abrahan Gutierrez.
Former Baby Brave Blaine Boyer Signs to Boost Bullpen
The Braves welcomed home an old friend, signing Blaine Boyer to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. A product of Cobb County’s Walton High School, Boyer debuted with the Braves back in 2005, along with fellow “Baby Braves” like Kelly Johnson, Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann, Kyle Davies, and Chuck James.
After a five year career with Atlanta, the Braves traded Boyer to the Cardinals, which started the journeyman phase of his career. Boyer has pitched with five different major league teams since his time in Atlanta, plus a stint in Japan. Interestingly, Fangraphs had a feature on Boyer and how he manages to limit damage on balls in play just a week prior to the signing.
More interesting than his baseball career however was the story that emerged last season about Boyer and former Brave Adam LaRoche‘s involvement in Exodus Road, a non-profit organization that funds undercover operations to emancipate victims of human trafficking and sex-slavery. Boyer and LaRoche took part in undercover operations in overseas brothels to identify victims and help arrange for their safe extraction from forced sex work.
Boyer is another right-handed bullpen option for Atlanta, which is projected to have Jim Johnson, Arodys Vizcaino, Jose Ramirez, Mauricio Cabrera, Armando Rivero, Daniel Winkler, Josh Collmenter, Jordan Walden, Chaz Roe, Akeel Morris, Jason Hursh, and Luke Jackson in camp. Boyer had a 3.95 ERA and a 3.96 FIP for the Brewers last season while appearing in 61 games and 66 innings pitched.
ESPN’S Keith Law Tags Braves as #1 Farm System
As one of the top national prospect pundits, many fans eagerly look forward to Keith Law’s prospect lists before spring training. Law is starting to slow-roll those lists out, but on Friday he revealed his top 10 overall farm systems, and for the second year in a row Law tabbed Atlanta with the top spot.
There are players in this system with viable cases to be in the global top 100 but struggle to crack Atlanta’s top 10. They just took Ian Anderson third overall in the draft and he couldn’t even crack their top six. Their High-A rotation in 2017 could include four first-round picks and a major international signing, only one of whom will be 21 on opening day. It’s as if someone told Coppolella the axiom that you can never have too much pitching, and he just said, “hold my beer.”
Over at MLB Pipeline, pundits Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis are starting their own slow-roll, starting with the Top 10 prospects by position. Braves prospects Kolby Allard and Sean Newcomb made their top 10 left-handed pitchers list while second baseman Ozzie Albies made their All-Defense Team. Expect many more Braves to be included in these lists as they roll out.
On the local side of prospect news, Braves blogging legend Gondeee has come out with his annual Braves prospects list on his Chop County site, while Tomahawk Take‘s Benjamin Chase updated his massive and impressive Top 100 list to accommodate recent additions such as Luiz Gohara.
Sarasota County In “Exclusive” Negotiations With Braves
Perhaps not coincidentally, a week after news reports came out about the Braves reaching out to Palm Beach County on the possibility of building a new spring training complex in the Lake Worth area, Sarasota County accelerated their negotiations with the Braves and now have “exclusive negotiating rights” with the team as reported by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
The move would seem to end the saga of the Braves attempts to find a new spring training home that have been ongoing for the last two years. The plans are to build the new facility in the West Villages district in the city of North Port. The team would move into the new complex in 2019.
There is a possibility that the team’s new high-A Florida State League affiliate, the Florida Fire Frogs, could move to the new complex in 2021 after it’s lease in Kissimmee expires.
The park and facilities are being budgeted at $75-80 million. Approximately $39 million will be spent by local jurisdictions if the plan goes through.